Background. Disinformation, now best known generically as “fake news,” is an old and protean weapon. Prominent in the 1980s was AIDS disinformation, including the HIV-from-Fort-Detrick myth, for whose propagation some figures ultimately admitted blame while others shamelessly claimed credit. In 2013 we reported a comprehensive analysis of this myth, finding leading roles for the Soviet Union’s state security service, the KGB, and for biologist and independent conspiracy theorist Jakob Segal but not for East Germany’s state security service, the Stasi. We found Stasi involvement had been much less extensive and much less successful than two former Stasi officers had begun claiming following German reunification. In 2014 two historians crediting the two former Stasi officers coauthored a monograph challenging our analysis and portraying the Stasi as having directed Segal, or at least as having used him as a “conscious or unconscious multiplier,” and as having successfully assisted a Soviet bloc AIDS-disinformation conspiracy that they soon inherited and thenceforth led. In 2017 a German appellate court found our 2013 analysis persuasive in a defamation suit brought by a filmmaker whose work the 2014 monograph had depicted as co-funded by the Stasi.
Question and methods. Were our critics right about the Stasi? We asked and answered ten subsidiary questions bearing upon our critics’ arguments, reassessing our own prior work and probing additional sources including archives of East Germany’s Partei- und Staatsführung [party-and-state leadership] and the recollections of living witnesses.
Findings. Jakob Segal transformed and transmitted the myth without direction from the KGB or the Stasi or any element of East Germany’s party-and-state leadership. The Stasi had trouble even tracking Segal’s activities, which some officers feared would disadvantage East Germany scientifically, economically, and politically. Three officers in one Stasi section did show interest in myth propagation, but their efforts were late, limited, inept, and inconsequential.
Conclusion. The HIV-from-Fort-Detrick myth, most effectively promoted by Jakob Segal acting independently of any state’s security service, was not, contrary to claims, a Stasi success.